Bengaluru: Voting for the high stakes assembly elections in Karnataka began early on Wednesday, in a state where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is eyeing to script history by retaining its southern citadel while a combative Congress eyes a comeback ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Polling is being held for 224 seats in what is being seen mainly as a three-cornered contest between the ruling BJP, the Congress and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal-Secular.
The electoral fate of top guns–Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, Congress veterans Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar and JD-S leader H D Kumaraswamy among others will be sealed during the day-long exercise.
The voting that began at 7 am amid tight security will go on till 6 in the evening.
A total of 5,31,33,054 electors are eligible to cast their vote in 58,545 polling stations across the state, where 2,615 candidates are in the fray.
Among the electors, 2,67,28,053 are male, 2,64,00,074 female and 4,927 ‘others’, while among the candidates 2,430 are male, 184 female and one from third gender.
While the ruling BJP, riding on the Modi juggernaut, wants to break the 38-year jinx — the State has never voted the incumbent party to power since 1985 — and tighten the grip on its southern stronghold, the Congress is seeking to wrest power to give the party the much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 parliamentary polls.
Also what needs to be seen is, whether the JD-S will emerge as a ‘kingmaker’ or a ‘king’ by holding the key for government formation, in the event of a hung verdict, as it has done in the past.
A total of 75,603 Ballot Units (BU), 70,300 Control Units (CU) and 76,202 voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) are slated to be used during the voting.
According to poll officials, elaborate security arrangements have been made across the state for the smooth conduct of elections and forces have been deployed from neighbouring states as well.
As many as 84,119 State Police Officers and 58,500 CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces ) police in 650 CoYs (companies) are on law & order and security duty on poll day across the state.
‘Critical Polling Stations’ are covered by one or more of the measures like Micro Observers, Webcasting and CCTVs to keep a watch on the polling process as force multipliers.
The voter turnout in the 2018 polls was 72.36 per cent.
In a bid to check apathy among voters, the Election Commission has come up with the idea of holding the poll in the middle of the week to prevent people planning an outing by clubbing the poll-day holiday with the weekend break.
CM Bommai (Shiggaon), Leader of Opposition and former CM Siddaramaiah (Varuna), JD-S leader Kumaraswamy (Channapatna), Shivakumar (Kanakapura) are the among the top candidates in the fray.
Besides Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy, Jagadish Shettar (Hubli-Dharwad Central) is the other former chief minister who is contesting this election.
Shettar had recently joined the Congress, quitting the BJP.
‘A government with full majority’ seemed to be the war cry of the leaders of all the political parties during campaigning that ended on Monday, as they stressed on getting a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government, unlike what happened after the 2018 polls.
In the 2018 assembly elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by the Congress at 80, the JD-S 37.
There was one independent member, while the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janata Party (KPJP) had one legislator each.
With no party having a clear majority and as the Congress and the JD-S were trying to forge an alliance, B S Yediyurappa of the BJP staked claim and formed the government.
However, it had to resign within three days ahead of the trust vote, unable to muster the required numbers.
Subsequently, the Congress-JD(S) alliance formed the government with Kumaraswamy as CM, but the wobbly dispensation collapsed in 14 months, as 17 legislators resigned and came out of the ruling coalition, and defected to the BJP facilitating the party coming back to power.
In the bypolls held subsequently in 2019, the ruling party won 12 out of 15 seats.
In the outgoing assembly, the BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress at 69, the JD-S –29, the BSP one, two Independents, Speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignation to join other parties ahead of polls).